University of Iowa President Sally Mason created brouhaha a few weeks ago with her remark on sexual assaults on the campus. Commenting on the problem, President Mason said, “I’m not pleased that we have sexual assaults, obviously. The goal would be to end that, to never have another sexual assault. That’s probably not a realistic goal just given human nature…”
Many people, including some members of the Board of Regents, were upset with her response. While it may have sounded fatalistic, I think I understand where Mason was coming from. We live in a sexually-charged society.
During decades of management, I was astounded by the number of times I had to deal with someone’s inability to keep their sexual urges to themselves. Fortunately, I never had to deal with an outright assault but dealing with sexual harassment issues always made me angry. During my years at the Sioux City Journal we had a male employee (not in my department, thank heavens) who thought he was God’s gift to women. I shall call him Dufus; not his real name, of course, but appropriate nonetheless. While I would have preferred to have seen him fired, I will not second-guess our boss who did not terminate him. These issues are always complicated.
This middle-aged man with a Santa-size belly donned a Santa hat one Christmas season and handed out candy canes to fellow employees. Two young women from another department approached me with a complaint that when Santa Dufus gave them a candy cane and a big hug one of his hands strayed to squeeze their breasts.
I suggested they report this to their direct supervisor but they maintained they didn’t feel comfortable talking to him about the matter. Since I was not the perpetrator’s supervisor I encouraged them to report the matter to the boss, which they did.
A few days later I tried to find out what the boss said by asking Santa Dufus for a candy cane. He grumbled that the boss had told him to not hand out candy any more.
“Why not?” I asked with feigned ignorance.
“I don’t know,” muttered the ersatz Santa. “I just don’t understand.” Oh, I’m sure he understood very well.
Sometime later, Dufus struck again, this time in our dispatch department for which I was responsible. Dispatch employees deliver newspaper advertising proofs and tearshseets to advertisers.
One of the dispatch employees came in early each day to get the process started. She was a young married woman, the mother of two children and an excellent employee. One morning she walked into my office obviously upset.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I think I might have done something wrong,” she said hesitatingly, “and I hope I won’t get fired for it.”
“What happened?” I queried.
“Well, (Dufus) comes into my department every morning and asks me to go into the darkroom with him. I know full well what he’s getting at. I’ve told him many times that I don’t do that sort of thing but he keeps asking every day.” (The production darkroom was adjacent to the dispatch department.)
Tears were trickling down her cheeks at this point.
“This morning he asked me again to go into the darkroom with him to ‘see what develops.’ I was so angry I grabbed one of the cake knives we keep in the desk for birthday parties and told him, ‘If you’re so hot to trot lay it out on the desk for me and I’ll remove your problem.’” “And what did he do?” I asked.
“He turned around and walked out of the room and hasn’t been back. I’m not going to be fired, am I?”
“Absolutely not,” I assured her. “If anything, you deserve an award for taking care of the problem. You’re my hero!”
I promised to report the incident to the boss and said, “If Dufus ever does this again call me. I’ll come back and help you with that knife.”
She was never bothered by Dufus again.
Later, as the publisher of a small daily newspaper, I had to deal with several such issues. They were all maddening. I have no tolerance for people who can’t leave their libido at home.